Tufts’ religious groups celebrate interfaith month this February

17/02/17 - Medford/Somerville, MA Students attend the Interfaith Jummah put on by the Tufts Muslim Students Association at the Interfaith Center on Friday, Feb 17. (Courtesy Zachary Cole)

The Interfaith Student Council (ISC) and the University Chaplaincy are sponsoring Tufts’ second annual Interfaith Awareness Month this month, which focuses on the theme of “Strength in Unity.” ISC has organized and promoted diverse faith-based events on campus to encourage collaboration among religious groups, according to ISC member Maretta Morovitz.

“We really wanted to focus this month on … recognizing that all of our [faith] groups have differences, but in coming together with those differences, it’s a stronger whole than any of the individual parts,” Morovitz, a senior, said.

Morovitz explained that the events associated with Interfaith Awareness Month are planned and organized by student representatives from each faith group.

“We each have our own individual [executive] boards, and we sort of plan events there,” she said. “When we come to the council, every group sends one or two representatives to the council and we discuss events, and if there’s anything they need help with, we’ll bring that up.”

A few of the events that have been held include an interfaith Shabbat at Hillel, an interfaith Jummah with the Muslim Students Association, an interfaith Catholic Mass, an interfaith Protestant evening worship service and a number of panels and discussion events on religious issues, according to the University Chaplaincy website.

Morovitz said that one of the biggest challenges in promoting interfaith events this month has been getting students to show up to the events and ask questions without feeling culturally insensitive.

“We’re trying to get over the initial hump of nervousness to becoming a part of the community you might not know much about,” she said. “You don’t want to ask questions that might sound ignorant or might be interpreted poorly, but all these [faith] groups are welcoming that.”

Celene Ibrahim, the Muslim chaplain, said she is glad that Tufts students and administrators invest time and resources in interfaith work, because she believes awareness about other faith traditions is an important part of being an educated person.

“Even if one does not come from a particularly robust faith background or have an identity that involves a faith commitment, being informed and educated about the role of faith in, for instance, the history of the United States … I think that’s highly important,” she said. “So this investment in the experience of students of faith and students seeking to be in dialogue is very special, and I commend the university for investing in those sorts of resources.”

Rabbi Jeffrey Summit, the Neubauer Executive Director of Tufts Hillel, said that Interfaith Awareness Month is especially important this year given the current political and social climate of the United States.

“I think we’re living in a country right now that is increasingly xenophobic, where people are scared of difference,” Summit said. “The government, I think, is making us scared of immigrants and refugees, and I think it’s incredibly important now to be able to celebrate narratives of difference on campus.”

Both Summit and Morovitz agreed that this year’s Interfaith Awareness Month was more energetic than last year’s, and both attributed part of the energy to the divisive 2016 presidential election.

Additionally, Summit noted that there is a growing consensus among religious leaders at universities to promote religious diversity and interfaith awareness, given the political and cultural situation.

“When I talk to colleagues across the country, I think we realize we have really important work to do now in our culture,” he said.  “I also think that this is a really important time in our country to … look at the values that unite us.”

In the long term, Morovitz said that she hopes Interfaith Awareness Month will improve religious awareness on campus and forge connections between members of different religious groups.

“Our long-term goal is really to promote religious and philosophical literacy on campus as well as to the larger student body and to provide connection between the [religious] groups,” she said.

Summit encouraged all members of the Tufts community to participate in interfaith events with an open mind.

“I really think we need to go for it when we have opportunities like Interfaith Awareness [Month],” he said. “We need to really take a step into the room and be willing to talk honestly and listen deeply.”